Tsitsernavank Monastery

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Tzitzernavank Monastery
The monastery in 2015
Basic information
Location Tsitsernavank village, Kashatagh Province,
Republic of Artsakh Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (de facto);
Azerbaijan Azerbaijan (de jure);
Geographic coordinates 39°38′38″N 46°24′31″E / 39.644°N 46.408511°E / 39.644; 46.408511Coordinates: 39°38′38″N 46°24′31″E / 39.644°N 46.408511°E / 39.644; 46.408511
Affiliation Armenian Apostolic Church
Architectural description
Architectural type three-aisled basilica[1]
Architectural style Armenian[1]
Completed 5th-6th century[1]

Tzitzernavank (Tsitsernavank or Dzidzernavank), Armenian: Ծիծեռնավանք) is a fifth- to sixth-century[1][2] Armenian church[3][4][1] and former monastery in the Kashatagh Province of Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (formerly Lachin Rayon of Azerbaijan). The monastery is within five kilometers of the border of Armenia's province of Syunik.


General view of Tsitsernavank

Historically, Tsitsernavank Monastery is located in Aghahechk, one of the 12 cantons of the historical Armenian province and principality of Syunik. By the 15th century Aghahechk had split into two districts: the northern half was called Khozhoraberd; the southern half, containing Tzitzernavank, was called Kashatagh.[5]

The basilica of Tzitzernavank was believed to contain relics of St. George the Dragon-Slayer. In the past, the monastery belonged to the Tatev diocese and is mentioned as a notable religious center by the 13th-century historian Stepanos Orbelian and Bishop Tovma Vanandetsi (1655).

In 1613, the monastery's fortified wall was repaired and its arched gateway was constructed - the building inscription in Armenian recording this act disappeared between 1989 and 1992, when the region was under the control of Azerbaijan.[6] The church and its belltower were renovated in 1779. The building inscription in Armenian recording this renovation disappeared in 1967.[7]

In the 19th century it served as the parish church for the adjoining peasant settlement of Zeyva, and was called St. Stephanos. Zeyva's Armenian inhabitants fled during the 1905 Armenian-Tartar war, never to return. During the Soviet period the village was renamed Gusulu and the church was unused but preserved as an historical monument.[8] Tzitzernavank's church of St. George (St. Gevorg) was reconsecrated in October 2001, after a heavy restoration in 1999-2000 paid for by Armenian diaspora funds, and is a venue for annual festivals honoring St. George.[9]


The church has no early building inscriptions; however, based on its appearance, it is believed to have been constructed in three main stages. Its earliest form appears to have been a simple rectangular basilica, without an apse. Based on the style of the doorways in its south wall, this building period has been dated to the 5th or 6th century AD.[10] However, an alternative thesis exists that dates this stage to the 3rd century AD, and suggests that it was a pre-Christian temple.[11] During the second stage of construction, a windowless apse was added (constructed inside the eastern end of the rectangular interior) and the upper parts of the outside walls were built. This may have happened in the 6th century. At this period, the arcades that separated the interior nave from its aisles were probably still constructed of timber. In the third period of construction, stone pillars and arches replaced them. Based on the style of their capitals, this occurred sometime between the end of the 6th century and the beginning of the 10th century.[12]

The monastery is recognized as a native Armenian example of an "oriental" basilica.[13] Being a three-nave basilica, like most of those in Armenia of V-6th centuries;[14] Tzitzernavank's central nave is only slightly taller than the lateral naves, from which it is separated by two rows of pillars. The plan is similar to a series of Armenian basilicas like Yereruyk, Yeghvard, Dvin, Ashtarak (Tsiranavor), Tekor - in that it had an interior composed of three aisles or naves, the central and largest one of which was separated from the others by pillars which also helped support the roof.[15]


There are two differing opinions on the etymology of the name Tzitzernavank. Some authors state that the name originates from the word "tzitzernak" which means the bird "swallow" in Armenian,[1] and point to once abundant swallow nests inside the ruined church of St. George. Others believe that the name derives from the word "tzitzern", which in Armenian means "little finger" - presumably a reference to the relics of St. George that were kept in the church.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Kouymjian, Dickran. "Index of Armenian Art: Armenian Architecture - Tsitsernavank". Armenian Studies Program. California State University, Fresno. 
  2. ^ Turner, Jane (ed.). The Dictionary of Art. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2003, p. 425. ISBN 0-19-517068-7.
  3. ^ Paolo Cuneo, "La basilique de Tsitsernavank dans le Karabagh," Revue des Études Arméniennes 4 (1967), pp. 203—216
  4. ^ Tom Sinclair. Architecture:Armenian Monasteries // Encyclopedia of Monasticism / Associate Editors John W. Barker Gail Geiger Richard Lansing. — Routledge, 2013. — P. 54
  5. ^ Hewsen, Robert H. (2001). Armenia: A Historical Atlas. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 100–104, 121–123. ISBN 0-226-33228-4. 
  6. ^ Karapetian, Samvel. Armenian Cultural Monuments in the Region of Karabagh. Yerevan: Gitutiun Publishing House, 2001, p. 145.
  7. ^ Hasratyan, Murad M. Tsitsernavank. Yerevan: Vneshtorgizdat, 1990, p. 5.
  8. ^ Karapetian. Armenian Cultural Monuments, p. 137.
  9. ^ (in Russian) В Цицернаванке праздновали день Святого Георгия Победоносца, Kavkaz.Memo.Ru, 29/9/2003.
  10. ^ Donabedian, Patrick and Jean-Michel Thierry, Armenian Art. New York: H.N. Abrams in association with Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America-Catholicosate of Cilicia, 1989, p. 509.
  11. ^ Hasratyan. Tsitsernavank, pp. 5-6.
  12. ^ Donabedian and Thierry. Armenian Art, p. 509.
  13. ^ Thais.it - Architettura Armena
  14. ^ Orthodox encyclopedia, ed. by the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia Alexius II, article "Armenia"
  15. ^ Kouymjian, Dickran. "In Search of the History of the Ererouk Basilica". Armenian Studies Program. California State University, Fresno. Retrieved May 11, 2008. 
  16. ^ Tzitzernavank. Documents of Armenian Architecture/Documenti di Architettura Armena Series. Polytechnique and the Armenian Academy of Sciences. vol. 21 Milan: OEMME Edizioni, 1989.

External links[edit]